Eleven Filipino workers were awarded over $15 million in a lawsuit against their former employers, whose claim of labor exploitation and human trafficking was uncontested
The workers were trafficked to the United States to serve as domestic servants and back-of-the-house employees at two high-end bakeries owned by defendants Analiza and Goncalo Moitinho de Almeida.
“Because of this judgment, all the heartache and suffering we had to endure because of Ana’s greed has not been for nothing,” said Gina Pablo, one of the workers.
On May 2, 2016, Judge Fernando M. Olguin of the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted to the workers a default judgment of $15.2 million in damages and fees.
The defendants subjected the workers to abusive conditions, including workdays as long as 17 hours and wages as low as three dollars an hour. They verbally abused the workers, forced them to do landscaping and cleaning at their home, referred to them as “dogs,” and imposed $11,000 in debt bondage on each worker. The defendants also threatened to cancel the workers’ visas and after the lawsuit was filed, threatened to harm them and their families in the Philippines.
On March 18, 2015, with the help of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, the workers sued the defendants for human trafficking, RICO violations, and violations of federal and state labor, retaliation, and whistleblower laws.
Ana de Almeida is the daughter of politically connected Juan B. Santos, the Chairman of Philippines’ Social Security Commission/Social Security System and a retired CEO of Nestle Philippines.
The 11 Filipino workers came to the U.S. on E-2 visas, which give immigrants with specialized skills authorization to work for a foreign national who has invested a substantial amount of money in a U.S.-based business.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the Almeidas rapidly began liquidating their assets, including fraudulently encumbering and selling their million-dollar residence in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., to keep the property and the proceeds from its sale out of the workers’ hands. The workers amended the complaint to add fraudulent transfer claims. By August 2015, the defendants had fled overseas and instructed their lawyers to “take no further action in defending the lawsuit.”
Judge Olguin voided the defendants’ fraudulent transfers and took steps to prevent them for further moving their assets. Advancing Justice-LA and Latham & Watkins are now pursuing steps to enforce the judgment.
“We are thrilled that the court has awarded the entirety of the requested relief, especially after the defendants did everything in their power, including breaking the law, to avoid accountability to our clients,” said Sid Nadkarni, associate at Latham & Watkins.
According to the Philippine Department of Labor & Employment, an average of 6,092 Filipinos are forced to migrate everyday in order to work abroad. It’s estimated there are up to 12 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) around the world. In 2014 alone, $26 billion in remittances have been sent back to the Philippines, a majority of which been sent by OFWs in the U.S. (Source: Bangko Central ng Pilipinas).
Advancing Justice-LA has also secured special immigration status for the workers as victims of human trafficking, which also provides work authorization so the workers can begin rebuilding their lives and reunite with their families.
“I’m so relieved about the judgment. All the stress that we went through is over. All the fears that the Almeidas imposed on us are gone. We can now focus on our new jobs and look forward to reuniting with our family soon,” said Armelinda de la Cerna, another worker.